BELFAST More than 1,000 trade unionists, environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners confronted heavy security in Belfast on Saturday to voice their anger at G8 leaders who meet in Northern Ireland next week.
Stilt-walkers, drummers and protesters in Halloween masks chanted slogans against everything from U.S. foreign policy to local government cutbacks as they snaked their way through the city, flanked by hundreds of armed police.
The rally in Belfast was small and peaceful but revealed the concern of British authorities to protect the world's most powerful leaders.
"Corporations are running the world, not the people," said Tom Wright, 55, a Belfast protester carrying a metre-tall model of an oil derrick painted with the slogan "No Fracking Way!" The G8, he said, represented "pure and total evil".
The summit, which will include the first private, face-to-face meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for a year, will take place at a secluded hotel near Enniskillen.
Top of the agenda will be Syria, with Obama facing tough talks with Putin, the government's most powerful ally. Leaders will also consider coordinated global action on tax avoidance and evasion.
The Saturday marchers came overwhelmingly from Ireland, north or south. Organisers said many protesters from abroad had been put off by the location of the summit and the reputation of Northern Irish police as among the most militarised in Europe.
"There used to be a large number of anti-capitalists who travelled to these protests, but there isn't the appetite now," said John Molyneux, 64, a veteran of G8 protests from Dublin.
"Now people are more focused on the struggles in their own countries: Greece, Spain, Turkey," he said.
The next major protest is planned for Monday, the first day of G8 meetings, when activists plan to march to the boundary fence of the security zone outside the hotel near Enniskillen , 80 miles (130 km) west of Belfast.
The meeting will bring together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, as well as senior European Union officials.
At least 100 armoured jeeps were parked in side streets along the protest route and officers took photographs and videos of the protesters. Police formed a human chain outside a city centre McDonalds, whose restaurants have been attacked at previous G8 meetings.
Some 3,600 police have been sent from the British mainland to reinforce 4,400 from Northern Ireland protecting the event.
Northern Ireland police regularly deal with sectarian rioting involving Catholic youths, who want Northern Ireland to unite with the Republic of Ireland to the south, and Protestants who want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
This year, dozens of police were injured during weeks of rioting after a decision to cut the number of days the British flag flies over Belfast city hall, with officers firing plastic bullets and water cannons.
Around 50 people draped in Union flags on Saturday held their weekly protest outside city hall calling for the flag to be flown all year round.
As well as anti-globalists, police are protecting the venue against the threat of an attack by militants who do not accept the Irish Republican Army's 1998 peace agreement with Britain, which ended three decades of violence.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)